1970s pricing label artwork
The story starts with a collaborative venture
Piroto Labelling started life as a joint venture between Automatic Business Machines in the UK and Pilot SA, a French labelling company. Trading under the name ABM-Pilot Labelling, our focus at that time was on the sale of labelling applicators, particularly pricing guns, together with pricing labels. It was a successful business model and repeat sales of customised pricing labels meant we developed long term relationships with our customers. In the early days we were already serving food manufacturers like Fine Lady Bakeries, who are still a customer today, and retailers like Brierleys, a much-loved Northampton based discount store which has sadly since closed.
Piroto’s first logo
Spotting early market trends
After just a few years the senior management team spotted an opportunity to capitalise on the profitable labelling side of the business. With ABM effectively defunct, and being unable to use the name Pilot Labelling in the UK, we needed a new name. Piroto Labelling was born! The first Piroto Labelling logo was launched to mark the move away from label applicators and into the world of industrial labelling. With a ready-made customer base in the food manufacturing and retail sectors, it wasn’t long before Piroto was producing complex pack front and product labels to name but a few.
Early pack-front label
Moving out of London spelt growth opportunity
As London-based Piroto developed the labelling business, so the need for more space to grow became apparent. We moved to Northampton, giving us a very central location in the UK and meaning that our expanding customer base could be serviced more easily. Although only a handful of employees moved with us, it did not deter growth plans and Piroto began to build a reputation for quality and service in the labelling sector.
Recession hits hard and Piroto weathers the storm
UK recession hit Piroto’s customer base hard. Several key customers ceased trading and others reduced their label orders significantly. Though times were tough, the Piroto team ensured that the business not only survived, but thrived.
With a close eye on retail and food sector trends the management team identified that the advent of electronic barcode scanning would soon open up new opportunities. The shift from heat-seal to thermal label substrates was in its infancy, and led Piroto into an era of barcode and traceability labelling, where we remain strong today.
Electronic barcode scanning
Piroto builds a reputation as an innovator
In the late 80s the market for haberdashery items, like zips, needles and thread was big business due to the popularity of sewing at home. When a new customer came to Piroto with the conundrum of how to label the multitude of different zip sizes and styles, our problem solving skills came to the fore. With Piroto’s expertise for printing on plastic and flat-bed hole punching the superior zip tag we designed took the market by storm and we were soon manufacturing tags for all the major UK zip manufacturers. In addition, we generated an extra revenue stream by introducing a finishing machine that could print variable data, cut and then attach each tag to the zip packaging. As Piroto’s reputation as an innovator and problem solver grew, so international orders for zip tags started to flood in.
Expertise in zip tags
Our competitors make a move
Avery International, the labelling giant best known for plain labels and office products, saw an opportunity to enhance their labelling business across Europe. As a consequence, they purchased Piroto’s parent company, Pilot SA. This move left Piroto’s future uncertain because Avery already had two label manufacturing sites operating in the UK. During what was a difficult time for the business, Managing Director, Alastair Inglis was determined that this should not be the end of Piroto’s 13-year success story.
Pack label artwork
Piroto’s future as a key player in the labelling industry is secured
Alastair made the decision to acquire Piroto to assure its future and secure the business for staff and customers alike.
With the management team united, they took the strategic decision to break ties with the past and move away from gravure printing, a printing process unique to their former parent company Pilot SA, and move to flexographic (flexo) printing. This bold and insightful move paved the way for sales growth and ensured the stability of the Piroto that we know today.
Piroto Labelling logo
Investment becomes a corner stone of success
The benefits of flexo – reduced lead-times, flexibility of substrates and a wider variety of inks – was really starting to pay dividends. Sales were strong and Pioto’s reputation for quality, reliability and service was building.
This in turn allowed us to purchase the first ever 330mm wide press with six colour print capability. This meant we could move into new markets whilst manufacturing labels economically using the most popular substrate roll widths at the time.
Investment in people formed part of Piroto’s success too, and it was in this year that the current MD, Leigh Mann, joined the Company as Sales Correspondent.
New printing press
Pack front label
A big win: Marks & Spencer approve Piroto
Success breeds success, and turnover continued to grow. Piroto were really building a reputation as innovators in labelling and our collaborative work with industrial printer manufacturers opened doors to large-scale food manufacturers and vertically integrated retailers.
It was one such collaboration that led to Piroto to perfect the supply of clothing labels on rolls, rather than the traditional sheet feed. This meant the tags could be easily overprinted by the retailer with pricing information using new-style thermal printers. This advance helped Piroto gain ‘preferred supplier’ status for clothing swing tickets and product labels for the mighty Marks & Spencer, St Michael brand. This breakthrough was sure to set us on the path to greater recognition and success in the retail sector.
Carcase tag design
Working with the Meat & Livestock Commission sets us on a new path
During the years of the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as ’mad cow disease’) crisis in the UK the reputation of British beef was at an all-time low at home and abroad. Hellenic Systems were asked by the Meat & Livestock Commission to find a solution to beef and lamb carcase traceability that would ensure that each animal could be accurately traced from farm to fork. Hellenic, who we already worked closely with, came to Piroto to develop specialist carcase tags to work with their over printers.
The successful collaboration resulted in our technical team developing a tag that could be attached to each carcase to maintain full traceability from slaughter to consumption. As a result of this high-profile solution Piroto started to build a reputation in customised tag manufacture that remains intact.
Pack label artwork
Reputation builds and turnover skyrockets
Piroto turnover tripled in just three years. This success was in no small way down to the strategy of investing in the best quality label printing presses from the US. The best presses, operated by experienced staff, produced high quality labels. This in turn helped our sales and service team to build a strong reputation in the core markets of raw meat, food manufacturing, non-food manufacturing and retail. These sectors remain important for our business to this day.
Piroto tags in the news
Tag expertise leads to metal detectable tag breakthrough
Building on our expertise in carcase tags, and using our technical ability to innovate, Piroto saw an opportunity to enter the growing market for traceability solutions.
In collaboration with salad packer, Kent Salads, Piroto developed the first fully metal detectable tag using a loop and lock design. The resultant publicity in the trade press secured Piroto’s position as traceability experts.
The advent of Piroto’s thermally printable metal detectable tags, and the resultant improvement in food safety, meant major retailers like Tesco took notice. Soon Piroto metal detectable tags were dubbed ‘best in market’ and the major supermarkets were keen to ensure their food suppliers were using them. Such high-profile endorsements in turn strengthened Piroto’s position as a specialist in metal detectable traceability tags.
Water dispersible labels
New water dispersible labels solve customer’s challenge
Piroto’s flare for innovation meant we continued to push the boundaries to solve customers’ labelling problems. When a well-known fast food delivery company approached us with a problem, we rose to the challenge by developing a customised water dispersible label. The label, which was used to trace reusable trays through the customer’s production and distribution system, revolutionised their operation bringing long term efficiencies.
Piroto’s success in the 90s meant we needed more space to grow, and in 1999 we moved to a new home in Northampton to accommodate future growth plans. The investment proved to be a sound strategic decision and we remain in these premises to this day, albeit with a number of reconfigurations and upgrades throughout to years.
Astra Zeneca approval brings new market opportunities
Our strategy of working closely with printer suppliers, and our willingness to invest time in those relationships continued to pay dividends.
When pharma giant, Astra Zeneca needed a solution to producing short run specialist clinical trial labels we developed pharmaceutical grade labels that could be over-printed in house. This led to achieving ‘approved supplier’ status with Astra Zeneca, a critically important move for our future. The prestigious win paved the way to the specialist arena of clinical trials and pharmaceutical labelling. Understanding the needs of this important sector helped us gain a reputation beyond traceability solutions for the food, manufacturing, and retail sectors.
History repeats itself as Piroto ownership changes
After 14 years working closely with MD Alastair Inglis, and building a career at Piroto, Leigh Mann acquired the Company. The new ownership signalled a continued investment in Piroto; building a sustainable operation ready to embrace the digital revolution.
Leigh’s commitment to building on Piroto’s reputation for quality, great customer service and innovation ensured that the success story continued.
Piroto Labelling logo
Piroto see the potential in variable print labels
Having spotted the potential for variable print data labels a few years earlier, Piroto built up enough expertise and customer demand to really capitalise on this specialist niche. We invested in a well-established and reliable on-press print system which meant we could add variable print data at the same time as printing labels.
Later that year new MD, Leigh Mann, generated an opportunity to take on a potentially lucrative order for millions of sequentially coded loyalty stamps. Fulfilment of the order however meant a big investment in a brand new press; a tough decision for the new owner. Leigh weighed up the risk, and decided to buy the first Mark-Andy press to fulfil the order.
Offering our new customer a quality product with a quick turnaround meant our reputation for pushing the boundaries and solving complex labelling issues grew.
Major EU business wins affirm Piroto’s place in Europe
Piroto’s strategic move into European markets started to gain pace. Two major business wins really put us on the international map. Thanks to a policy of continued investment in innovative technology, our manufacturing facility remained up-to-date and capable of producing a wide variety of high quality label and tags.
35 years in business signals Piroto’s sound philosophy works!
As Piroto celebrated 35 years in the labelling industry, much has changed. Our philosophy of continuous improvement, investment in the future and customer satisfaction, however, still serves us well.
To further strengthen Piroto’s position in pharmaceutical labelling we created a secure pharma finishing unit operating to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards. The unit included a 100% print inspection bay to give high integrity checks which, in turn, offered our healthcare customers total peace of mind.
Still growing, despite a global recession
Despite the growing recessionary pressures across the globe, Piroto’s strategic move into international markets paid off. Sales of labels and tags continued a steady rise. Our focus was on ensuring our customers weathered the economic storm by re-engineering their labels to help them save money.
Our first British Retail Consortium (BRC) audit saw Piroto accredited with BRC hygiene packaging standards. A crucial step in securing our food industry customers.
Ten years on and our reputation in pharma labelling grows
Working collaboratively with our pharmaceutical customers we developed specialist multilingual flag labels to solve the challenge of conveying a great deal of complex information in an extremely small space. The clever design of the flag labels enabled our customer to over print each label in multiple languages, using a laser printer.
It was innovations such as these that have kept Piroto at the forefront of advances in the labelling sector.
A record breaking year
Another record-breaking turnover year allowed us to make our largest investment in equipment to date. Consequently, we started to manufacture labels wider, faster and with a superior print quality.
Investment extended to the introduction of a new Enterprise Resource Planning system (ERP) in the following year to ensure that Piroto operated efficiently and effectively for years to come.
As the market demanded yet more sophisticated labels and tags, we invested in a state-of-the-art servo driven printing press. With greater control over our processes, we could promise brilliant print quality, and shorter lead times with improved efficiency.
Label waste scheme
Sustainability becomes a key driver
Piroto continued to maintain the high hygiene standards of production that our customers demand. BRC acknowledged our efforts and awarded Piroto the new AA BRC accreditation, an accolade that we continue to maintain up to this day.
During 2016 Piroto made a commitment to work towards a more environmentally friendly future. As a first step, we gained ‘zero to landfill’ accreditation, a scheme that allows us to dispose of production waste in a more sustainable fashion.
Giving back to our local community
As our company grew, so did our commitment to support our local community. Piroto staff are actively involved in choosing and supporting local causes, with the company matching their funding efforts. This year saw the start of our association with Cynthia Spencer Hospice; a local charity that we actively support to this day.
We also teamed up with local legend, Northampton Town Football Club (AKA The Cobblers), in 2017. Eager to extend our experience in thermal ticket production, our local football team proved a great place to learn more about what was important to our sports club customers. Collaboration and co-creation have always been at the heart of Piroto’s customer relationships.
Award-winning bottle labels
Golden goal scratch-card
Gaining ever more complex label expertise
As part of our association with local team, Northampton Town Football Club, we took the opportunity to perfect our expertise in scratch card production. The sophisticated design included printing on the grey scratch-off strip, sequential numbering for security purposes and overprinting for each home fixture. The scratch cards featured a ‘Golden Goal’ game and we used a variable data set to print six goal times randomly on each card. The cards were a great fund raiser for the club and helped us develop useful new skills to add to our customer offer.
This year also saw the Piroto team working alongside Loch Lomond Brewery to produce their beautiful, award winning beer bottle labels. Our technical team were instrumental in assisting the brewer move from digital to flexographic printing for their labels, thus helping them save money even as their business scaled.
We invested in a new laminating unit that allowed us to produce complex peel and reveal labels with variable print data on the inside. With our ability to print on adhesive too, we could now produce peel and reveal labels with print on all three surfaces. Our labels have proved extremely popular for authentication and security as well as competitions and promotions.
Standalone printer & tags
Our green agenda gathers pace
Once again, our green agenda comes to the fore. Piroto receive approval from the leading sustainable materials accreditation body for the first time. That means Piroto can manufacture labels and tags using materials certified from sustainable sources.
Piroto remains at the forefront of traceability labelling. As well as working with the major food groups, we help small food manufacturers to meet their audit requirements. By offering competitive standalone printer and traceability tag packages we have a solution to suit everyone. It’s remarkable to think that the business principle on which Piroto was based at its inception, i.e. providing hardware and labels, still forms part of our business success today.
Supporting staff and customers through Covid -19
Despite the worldwide pressures placed on business and individuals through the Covid pandemic, Piroto remains strong. Our focus rapidly shifted to ensuring our food and pharmaceutical customers received the vital label supplies that they needed to remain operational. We were given ‘key worker’ status in recognition of the contribution that our labels and tags made in maintaining the integrity of the food and medicine supply chain at this critical time.
We worked closely with our customer, DRW, to provide part of an important solution to trace Covid test results.
Plus, we worked with our fast-food retail customers who were forced to change their business models overnight as lock-down hit the UK. We developed food tamper seals for one such customer as they swiftly changed their takeaway offering to a delivery model.
We also continued to support our staff and the local community by providing laptops to schools, supplies to our local hospital and ensuring our staff and their families remained happy, safe, and well through these difficult times.
Image credit @CUH
Agility ensures essential supplies reach customers
Managing global supply chain issues, raw material shortages and price increases caused by the pandemic and Brexit remained a challenge this year. Many hours were put in, company-wide, to keep essential label supplies getting through to key industries.
October saw the introduction of Natasha’s Law, named after the teenager who tragically died following a severe allergic reaction to a pre-prepared sandwich. Once again Piroto worked closely with food retailing customers to keep consumers safe by finding a labelling solution. The new allergen identification labels met the requirements of the legislation, working across a wide range of prepared foods and in multiple outlets.
Despite operational challenges, sustainability remained high on our agenda. We used our time wisely to research and test environmentally friendly label substrates so we could offer our customers options.
Supporting customers to meet the demands of the plastic packaging tax
We welcomed the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT) in 2022. The tax is designed to encourage the use of packaging materials including at least 30% recycled materials. Preparing to meet the legislative and reporting requirements placed on our business, and our customers’ businesses, involved much work internally. It was encouraging to see that the introduction of PPT is having a positive effect on our industry’s sustainability record, as well as inspiring green innovation in developing new packaging materials.
As price inflation and the threat of recession loomed large, Piroto’s focus remained on helping customers, and staff, to weather the storm in the best way that we can. Business Improvement Plans (BPIs)were put in place with many customers to optimise their labels and tags with the view to keeping price increases to a minimum.
Optimising label design
As a mark of our 50 years in business we have launched a bold, new logo
As a mark of our 50 years in business we have launched a bold, new logo. The design maintains the heritage that we are so proud of, whilst recognising our desire to continue to make positive strides into the future.
We believe that our values of quality, customer service, community, integrity, success and teamwork, along with our own people, our customers and our suppliers mean we are in a great place to launch into the next period of our history.
50 year celebration